It's been a long-awaited return of the women's Tour de France, and well worth the fight for Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider intends to shoot for the stars during the eight-day race in pursuit of more than stage wins and the coveted yellow jersey. She aims to become part of change, progress and the history of cycling.
It's been over three decades since women have competed in the pinnacle of professional bike racing at the Tour de France - Marianne Martin, Maria Canins, and Jeannie Longo won the yellow jersey between 1984 and 1989.
This summer marks a pivotal moment for the sport as a world-class peloton of 24 women's teams will take their places on the start line at the Tour de France Femmes avez Zwift.
Niewiadoma will be one of over a hundred of the best cyclists in the world competing in the race, and all will go down in history as the first women since the 80s to take the start line at the Tour de France. For the women's field, it's an event that replaces the stepping-stone event La Course, held from 2014 to 2021.
"I will say that I'm looking forward to the whole process, taking it one day at a time and focusing on our goals and trying to enjoy the audience and attention that we're getting from social media without getting too stressed, paranoid or overwhelmed."
Niewiadoma spoke with Cyclingnews in a phone interview from her home in Andorra, just a few days before her departure to Paris.
"I'm looking forward to keeping the good spirit up and trying to do our best, and then I feel this is going to be great about this Tour. I feel like I'm just looking forward to trying to make a history.
"Trying to win a stage and come up with the tactics or moves that will allow us to be part of the race. It would be great for my team, which has supported us for so many years, to bring the result that everyone was working for.
"It's not only about us as riders, but many staff members work so hard, and they commit all of their time to make our lives more comfortable and easier. I'm looking forward to a night when we can pop open champagne and celebrate together what we achieved."
Niewiadoma will join Canyon-SRAM in Paris on Friday, arriving later than some teams to delay some of the pressure and expectations that go along with competing at one of the most popular sporting events in the world.
"I still have a couple of days to charge the battery. I'm kind of like keeping it normal. The team wanted us to get there a bit earlier, but then we thought, 'maybe we should just treat it as a normal race and not stress too much,'" Niewiadoma said.
Her respected colleague Elisa Longo Borghini, who will be racing with rival team Trek-Segafredo, aptly compared the feeling of going to the Tour de France Femmes to a trip to the moon. "We are going to France and racing, not any different to what we do anywhere else in the world," Longo Borghini said.
In her attempt to view the Tour de France as any other bike race on the WorldTour calendar, Niewiadoma looks no further than the challenges of the routes, her competitors, and the overall aim to cross the line first.
"I'm treating it normally - it will be a big race, and we'll suffer a lot - but like, without feeling this extra tension. I already feel like, naturally, this race brings a lot of attention. So, we will get a lot out of it for the next couple of days," Niewiadoma said.
A team to inspire
Niewiadoma will co-lead the Canyon-SRAM alongside Pauliena Rooijakkers with support from Tiffany Cromwell, Alena Amialiusik, Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin. She described the composition of the team as inspiring.
"I'm happy with this team. [Pauliena] will be a big asset, especially for the last two stages. She's an amazing climber, and I feel, personally, that just racing with her has improved my long climbs because she mentally empowers me and inspires me. I'm happy that she's there," Niewiadoma said.
"I will say our whole team is a climbing-orientated group. We didn't bring a pure sprinter, we have Soraya [Paladin], who can sprint very well, too, so hopefully, she will find her chances on stage 2 or the longest stage 5. We are aiming for the stage wins and GC as a team. I believe that you can secure a nice position in the GC with the stage wins or top positions."
The route will start in Paris and travel to the northeast of France, challenging the peloton to four flat stages, two puncheur stages that include a day of racing packed with gravel sectors, and back-to-back mountain stages, before ending atop La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
"To be honest, my team chose a squad that can focus on most things except the pure sprints, such as stage 1. I believe we still have riders like Elise, who could go for QOMs, the mountain jersey, and proved a couple of times that she's capable of getting it. For the most part, all of us will find our chances to achieve something. I do believe that the first stage will be about the sprint. So, perhaps that's the only stage we will not be fighting for the victory."
Canyon-SRAM previewed nearly all the stages except stage 5 and stage 6, focusing on the stage 3 finish climb in Épernay, stage 4's gravel sectors and the two mountainous routes on stage 7 and stage 8 in the Vosges.
Emotions set to run high on La Planche
The two most demanding stages mark the end of the Tour de France Femmes with climbs over Petit Ballon, Col du Platzerwasel and Grand Ballon on stage 7, which Niewiadoma cites as the queen stage. It is followed by the final, another triple mountain pass-day over the Côte d'Esmoulieres, Ballon d’Alsace and to the top of La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Niewiadoma has already anticipated the emotion that she, and the rest of the peloton, will feel upon reaching the finish line at the Tour de France Femmes atop La Planche. It will undoubtedly symbolize progress for women in the sport at an event that many believe to be the summit of professional cycling.
"I feel like I'm going to feel relief. I have been preparing for this race for the last five weeks. I was strictly trying to do everything perfectly, like saying 'no' to all those things. So, I feel like just being done with it, knowing that I did my best, and feeling that all that time I committed for this race paid off. It's going to be amazing," Niewiadoma said.
"I'm looking for a good outcome. And then also, I feel like, perhaps like every single rider during the Tour de France, to be part of the change, to be part of the history, and to be able to say, one day, to our kids or grandkids, 'I took part in the Tour de France.'
"It's super cool to just like, know that we are part of the history, and it took some years, starting with just one stage in Paris. I feel like everyone was fighting for a proper stage race, but it took over eight years to make it happen. So it's also cool to experience how long we had to wait for it and how many people fought for it."
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